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Empires Into Sand

Normil Hawaiians

Empires Into Sand

Label: Upset The Rhythm

Genre: Dark / Post Punk / Gothic / Neo-Folk

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‘Empires into Sand’ is the first album of new material from Normil Hawaiians in 40 years. The group first refined their sound during the early 80s, hitting on a pastoral experimentalism that drew on ambient drone, motorik impulse and post-punk pep.

‘Empires into Sand’ came together in the familiar manner of their original three albums, with improvisation and nuance informing the blueprint of the tracks. It was with the official release of this last record ‘Return of the Ranters’ (originally recorded in 1984/85, but then unconsciously shelved) in 2015 by Upset The Rhythm that led to the group reconnecting with the intention of playing music together again. Normil Hawaiians played a launch show for that ‘lost album’ and followed that up with more concerts, including an appearance at Supernormal, a residency at the Edinburgh Festival, gigs at Cafe OTO. They were even chosen by Richard Dawson to perform with him in London.

Throughout this time, Normil Hawaiians revisited their original songs for live performance. However for a group always so interested in evolving their sound, it came as no surprise that they shirked at the idea of a faithful retread. The band pushed their songs into new inventive dimensions, still progressive at core, but now imbued with a cosmic uncanny. A cinematic approach that was always quietly present has come to the fore. The quaint weirdness of folk song, the humanity of communal practice and the group’s ecological mindedness have all found a place in Normil Hawaiians’ current sound world.

When Normil Hawaiians write and record music they prefer to gather in a remote location and live together for a while, such is their communal ethos. Being far-flung across the UK, the Family Hawaii (numbering seven key members) decided to encamp to Tayinloan, a small village on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland. They set up their own studio in an isolated, windswept house overlooking the sea and started the tape rolling. Noel Blanden from the band explains the process neatly: “we set up and began playing, slowly and patiently, allowing the music to take its own shape based on where we were staying and our ongoing friendship. We recorded for days, capturing everything. A lot of new and rich ideas began to emerge”.

Normil Hawaiians took their time to develop these threads at their own pace, allowing songs to mutate and settle over months. Simon Marchant deftly produced and recorded the album whilst also performing in the band, this marked the first time the band had total control of their own sound. The last few years has seen the band reconvene in Herne Bay, Faversham, London and Leith to record new parts, constantly responding to the changing form of these quietly spectral songs of defiance.

‘Empires into Sand’ incorporates samples from old rehearsals and live music into the new finished pieces, this is in continuum with their previous records. Snippets of sound from the static of short wave radio and satellite transmissions also embellish the work. In fact the whole album is stitched together with interludes, creating an acutely immersive 45 minutes. ‘Exiles’ opens the album amid swirling atmospheres, synth flights and recordings of Vilnis Egle (father of Zinta Egle from the band) retelling his experience of fleeing his home in Latvia during Soviet occupation in 1942. George Bikandy also features on this track talking about his flight from Syria in 2014. ‘Ghosts of Ballochroy’ is a winding river of a song featuring a lively discourse in Scots courtesy of Rodney Relax. There’s a commitment to truth telling present across this hopeful album populated with angels, incoming tides, long shadows and the rose-washed sun. “From our broken windscreen, we feel the breeze” soars Guy Smith triumphantly over the driving beat of ‘Waterfalls : Bedford 330’. ‘Big City Sky’ flutters and sparkles with rapid synth runs, tape-looped drums and Jimmy Miller’s commanding vocal. With ‘In The Stone’ Zinta’s melody is deliberately jagged and blunt, exaggerated by octave-layered vocals and interjections from Guy.

This is thought-provoking, boundary-bothering music. Honest in intent, a solidarity of vision. The album’s title is derived from a poem by band member Mark Tyler, who sadly passed away during the recording process and the transience of life is felt heavily throughout. Noel best coins the group’s wish for the album: “we wanted to create an album that acknowledges our history and also reflects who we are today. We remained true to ourselves and we wanted to make something beautiful without removing the edges.” ‘Empires into Sand’ certainly does that, it’s an echo from the past, an echo from the future.